The Euro 2020 final is here at last, albeit a year later than scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and London will stage a heavyweight clash between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
Roberto Mancini’s Italy are seeking the Azzurri’s first European title since 1968, while England are attempting to win a major tournament for only the second time, having last tasted success at the 1966 World Cup.
Both Italy coach Mancini and England manager Gareth Southgate have revived the fortunes of their respective national teams since taking charge in 2018 and 2016 respectively, but Sunday will be decided by the players on the pitch.
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Will Raheem Sterling or Harry Kane inspire England to glory? Or will the defensive organisation of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci pave the way for someone like Federico Chiesa to score another crucial goal for the Italians?
Both teams are unbeaten at Euro 2020 and the game appears too close to call. Here’s how Italy and England stack up ahead of Sunday’s clash.
So far at Euro 2020, the goalkeeping department has been a position of strength for both Italy and England.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, expected to sign for Paris Saint-Germain this month following the expiration of his AC Milan contract, has justified his billing as Gianluigi Buffon’s natural successor by providing presence, reliability and stature in goal for Italy.
The 22-year-old, at 6-foot-5 inches tall, cuts a commanding figure and he has been beaten just twice in six games. His save of Alvaro Morata’s during the penalty shootout win against Spain in the semifinal gave Jorginho the chance to win it.
One of Italy’s key strengths at the Euros has been the defensive axis forged between Donnarumma and veteran centre-halves Chiellini and Bonucci. Together, they pose a formidable unit.
For England, Jordan Pickford went into Euro 2020 with question marks over his reliability. Despite being a consistent performer for England, his club form for Everton last season was mixed, with the 27-year-old making a number of costly, high-profile mistakes.
That said, he has once again saved his best performances for the national team and, aside from some wayward passes during the semifinal win against Denmark, Pickford has been outstanding this summer. His reflex saves and ability to quickly get down low to save have led to him conceding just one goal so far, and his kicking has often sparked breakaway attacks. And although he can take risks, he has cut out many of the mistakes that have plagued him at club level.
Both teams have largely operated with a back four, although England played with a back three during the round-of-16 victory against Germany, with Manchester City right-back Kyle Walker moving inside to partner John Stones and Harry Maguire.
Italy coach Mancini is unlikely to divert from a back four that has served him well throughout the tournament, although the Achilles injury sustained by Leonardo Spinazzola during the quarterfinal win against Belgium saw Chelsea left-back Emerson promoted to the starting lineup in the semifinal against Spain.
Emerson is likely to keep his place alongside Bonucci and Chiellini, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo occupying the right-back slot. Everything is held together and controlled by Bonucci and Chiellini in a defence that went 11 games without conceding a goal until the round-of-16 win over Austria, which Italy won 2-1.
England coach Southgate has a variety of options, having rotated over the course of their six games. Walker and Kieran Trippier have both played at right-back, while Trippier started the opening game against Croatia at left-back.
Luke Shaw has since occupied that role and has enjoyed an impressive tournament, linking well with Raheem Sterling down the left, and the Manchester United defender is almost certain to start on Sunday. Stones and Maguire will continue at centre-half, but don’t be surprised if Southgate mixes up the formation.
Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice have been England’s defensive midfield pair throughout the tournament and Southgate has so far resisted the temptation to restore the fit-again Jordan Henderson.
With the Leeds and West Ham duo performing the double pivot role, Southgate has selected attacking midfielders ahead of them, operating behind centre-forward Harry Kane. Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish have all been handed starts by Southgate, with the coach tailoring his selection to the opposition. Mount is likely to start against Italy, but Southgate could go with any of the other three, or even bolster the area with Henderson, in his starting team for the final.
Italy’s selection in midfield been more predictable and consistent, with Mancini operating with a three-man midfield throughout the tournament. Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella have started each of the three games in the knockout stages and are likely to form the same midfield for the final. Jorginho’s control of the ball, Verratti’s passing range and Barella’s threat in attacking positions make Italy the biggest challenge that England have faced in the centre of the pitch.
England’s main threat has come from Kane and Sterling, with the two forwards scoring seven of England’s 10 goals.
Tottenham forward Kane failed to score in the group stage, but he has come to life in the knockout rounds by hitting the back of the net against Germany, Ukraine (twice) and Denmark.
Kane and Sterling will start on Sunday, but England have other forwards capable of making an impact. Marcus Rashford has been given just 83 minutes’ playing time, while Jadon Sancho and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have also been relatively under-used.
Italy have outscored England with 12 goals in six games, but they have spread them around the team and have five players — Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile, Chiesa, Manuel Locatelli and Matteo Pessina — on two goals.
Immobile is likely to start with Andrea Belotti once again in reserve. With Chiesa having scored twice in two games at Wembley, Mancini may start with the Juventus forward with Insigne or Domenico Berardi as the third forward.
Sterling has been England’s most consistent and greatest impact player of the tournament. He has scored goals, created them, won penalties and generally provided a crucial attacking outlet for Southgate’s team. His partnership with Shaw has been a big factor and an area that the Italians will undoubtedly look to control.
Kane is clearly a match winner, and needs one goal to draw level with Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick on five goals for the tournament — though Ronaldo is primed to win the Golden Boot as he is the only one of the trio with an assist to his name. To win the Golden Boot, Kane needs to score at least two goals, or get a goal and at least two assists.
Then there is Rashford, Foden, Sancho and Grealish, all of whom could quite easily claim the headlines with a match-winning display.
For Italy, the team has been the star, with each area of Mancini’s side delivering when it matters. Chiellini has offered a reminder of the beauty of world-class defending, while Jorginho and Verratti have enjoyed great tournaments in midfield.
Further forward, Chiesa has delivered big goals at crucial moments, but the strength of Italy comes from the collective unity of the team rather than one or two outstanding individuals.
Intangibles (coaching, momentum etc.):
England have never beaten Italy at a major tournament, losing against the Azzurri at the 2014 World Cup, Euro 2012 and Euro 1980, and their last competitive win came in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley in November 1977.
But Euro 2020 has been a tournament in which England have ended a number of negative sequences — they won their opening game for the first time at a Euros, beat Germany in the round of 16 to win a knock-out Euros tie without a penalty shootout for the first time and, by winning the semifinal against Denmark, reached the final for a first time. No team has won the Euros on home soil since France in 1984, so England are also aiming to end that 37-year wait.
Italy have lost just once in six games against England at Wembley, so the superstitious Mancini will believe that the omens are on his team’s side. Italy also won knockout ties against Austria and Spain at Wembley en route to the final.
Sunday will be England’s 16th major tournament game at Wembley, having won 11 and drawn four of the previous 15. The Euro 96 penalty shootout defeat against Germany in the semifinals is classed as a draw, having been level at the end of play.
So going into the game, both teams will believe that Wembley is their lucky ground — but only one of them will be right.
Prediction: Italy 2-1 England
It’s a tough one to call, with neither team an overwhelming favourite to win. They are two evenly matched sides, both of whom are carrying their own sense of destiny, with big-game players on each team.
England will play to win, while Italy’s defensive and tactical discipline means that they can, and will, play to not lose. England simply need to be able to break Italy down without leaving gaps at the back for Mancini’s players to exploit.
Italy have the experience and game management skills to be able to defuse the home atmosphere and make it a battle of attrition for England, but they also possess the attacking qualities to hurt Southgate’s team.
If Italy are able to fulfill their game plan, they will win. But it will be close.